I Finally Get It

By Paige GravesNovember 24, 2014

“They just don’t get it.”

I’ve heard many teachers say this about their students. 

As an aspiring college professor, I’ve made a mental note to never, ever say this. I just try to focus on my job: improving my students’ public speaking skills. It’s a gift to influence minds in such an intimate setting, and more often than not, I find that students actually do get it. 

Maybe we don’t get them.

As educators, I think we like to assume we have control of the classroom—and we do, to a certain extent. We guide students to follow the correct outline format, deduct points for going over time, and demand silence. But we also have the power to present them with messages of hope, to encourage them when they feel as if everything is falling apart.

I struggled with an eating disorder and self-harm in high school. Though I kept it hidden, I wish someone had offered me help. My struggle continued into college, where I was sexually assaulted my first semester; after that, I never really quite felt the same. I sank back into the depression I thought I had left behind. When my boyfriend and I broke up, I assumed it was because I was broken and dirty. Because I deserved it. Because sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night crying. Because I couldn’t go into a bathroom alone. Because when anyone touched me, I recoiled. Everything wonderful and loving began to crumble, as did I. 

I felt like there was a reason this was all happening to me, but I also felt it was better me than someone else. I still thought I was too fat to be loved. I thought my skin was too marked to be touched. And I came to believe my body was only ever going to be appealing to people who wanted to hurt me. 

This wasn’t true, of course. But I didn’t get that at the time. It was my reality, and there were days when the thought of eating a whole meal in public caused a nervous breakdown. There were nights when I had to get out of bed to check the rooms in my apartment for strangers with cruel intentions. 

In some cases, some of my closest friends still didn’t understand, going so far as to call me a liar, someone seeking attention. 

I tell my students there will always be these kinds of people, the people who do not believe what they have to say. In my class, we call these kinds of people The Skeptics because you feel like you have something to prove to them. In the best cases, they might encourage you to do better, to try harder. But in my life, The Skeptics were not the people who made me want to get better or try harder. For me, that has been and will always be my students.

And because I wish someone had done it for me, each chance I get I tell my students how wonderful they are. I cheer them on if they stumble through their presentations with a shaking voice because they are trying and doing what they never thought they could. I get to hear their stories and be a part of their wonderfully made lives, and sometimes that includes the tough stuff. While I am not the counselor to them, I am someone who listens. I am what our class would call The Choir: I believe in what they have to say. Because I build this relationship of trust with them, I offer them hope. I offer them hope, not just for being a better speaker, but also for having a better life, for being more than what has been done to them. My door is open, I am always available to talk, and I assure them there is no one I would rather have in my class. I even talk about TWLOHA with them, especially during high stress points in the semester. Because that’s what I wish I had been offered. 

On the last day of class, when I have come to know them best, I will have to let my students go. I always imagine I will say something so eloquent that they become inspired to use their new confidence to change someone else’s life for the better. I tell them I promise to always see them as individuals, not just units filling seats. I hope I have been doing it all along. 

The beautiful souls who enter my classroom may not know it, but they have saved me in so many ways. They have helped me discover my desire for teaching, patience when I thought I had none, and light in the darkness. If any of my students are reading this, thank you for helping me. You all may not ever realize it, but you did. And I will spend the rest of my life giving that back to future students. You are my hope. You are my joy. You don’t have to prove your worth to me. 

I finally get it. 

And I will never give up on you. 

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Comments (7)

  1. Kelsey E.

    As a future teacher and someone currently in the student teaching process, your insights into teaching were absolutely beautiful and profound. I’ve also found myself in this position with the students I’ve had for a short time this semester. After a hard last year, my students played a vital role in my healing process and I am incredibly grateful for each of them.

    Thank you for the reminder that students, no matter how difficult the class, are worthy and it is our job to find out how to reach them, not to simply write them off because they don’t get it. I strive to be an encouraging teacher and one that brings hope to a classroom filled will students who desperately need to hear that there is always hope.

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  2. Mia

    I wish I had you as a teacher. You’re an incredible person.

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  3. Anonymous

    this is beautiful. I was blessed enough to have a teacher like this. the world needs more people like you. keep doing what you’re doing because I promise you are changing your students’ lives.

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  4. michael august schmidt

    Adolescence is torment for most kids I think, certainly some more than others. A little empathy and patience go a long way. It’s a great tragedy that so few people, upon reaching adulthood, remember how horrific their own adolescence was…this leads to a great deal of misunderstanding and suffering that should not exist.

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  5. Michelle Bellinger

    I have tears in my eyes. BEAUTIFUL. I had not so nice things in my life and have had depression, but GOD gave me the gift of moving on. I TRY to give as much love, encouragement, tolerance, non judgment of how people look, what color they are, what religion etc. They are people and they should be looked at as INDIVIDUALS, not as a group as mention here. What an inspiration, what a beautiful SOUL! GOD BLESS…………….A GIFT to the world LOVE1

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  6. Sarah Madrigal

    Throughout this entire semester your class has always been my favorite. You are the prefect example of what a teacher should and should want to be. I will forever miss you Paige! Thank you for being an inspiration and loving each and every one of our goofy, crazy, annoying, loud, obnoxious, weird selves! Love you!

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  7. Justin Luy

    Hey Paige, I hope this finds you well. It’s been around 9 years since I’ve had your class and 9 years I’ve had this blog bookmarked on my phone after you shared it with us on our last day. I shortly transferred to another university shortly after completing your course due to a major change and new opportunities, but I can say from my time in school and the lasting impact I’ve received from any professor/class, you left the deepest and greatest impact. The genuine care and love you expressed to us as your students through your words, actions and thoughts left the last marks of how to treat and lead others. Public speaking was a new and vulnerable experience but you made it feel safe and you listened with an encouraging smile. I’m sorry it took me 9 years to say this, thank you Paige. Thank you for making a truly positive impact on my life.

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